Sex And Migraines

Theories Include a Beneficial Release of Chemicals

woman with headache while husband is in bed
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The relationship between headaches and sexual activity is complicated. Migraines and other types of headaches can affect sex drive, usually decreasing it. And while sexual activity may trigger a headache, sometimes sex can actually relieve a migraine. The complex interaction between sex and headaches is not the same for everyone, and sexual activity may not always affect your headaches in the same way.

It is useful for you and your partner to try to understand how your headaches affect your sex drive and how sexual activity affects your headaches so that you can communicate and empathize with each other's needs.

Migraines and Libido

The strongest relationship between headaches and sex is related to sex drive, or libido. Migraines and other types of headaches can have a major effect on sex drive, especially during attacks.

Diminished Libido

Headaches, including migraines, may decrease libido, especially during a painful episode. Symptoms such as nausea, pain, dizziness, and fatigue typically diminish sex drive, at least temporarily until a headache or a migraine is over.

Generally, headaches do not typically affect sex drive between attacks. But, migraines are often preceded by prodromal symptoms, which can include photophobia, irritability, and muscle stiffness. If you or your partner is having prodromal symptoms, libido may be diminished due to physical discomfort or even due to the anxiety of knowing that a migraine is about to start, and this anticipation can diminish sex drive.

Increased Libido

If you or your partner has recurrent migraines, you might actually have an increased sex drive. A 2006 study published in the journal Headache found that people who experience recurrent migraines scored higher on a test called the Sexual Desire Inventory (SDI) than those who suffer from tension headaches. The phenomenon was true for both men and women, suggesting that individuals with recurrent migraine headaches may experience a stronger desire for sex than those with non-migraine headaches.

Researchers suggest that serotonin may be responsible for this increased sex drive. People who experience recurrent migraines often have a low serotonin level. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that modulates pain and emotions. Sexual satisfaction generally increases serotonin level, and the drive to increase serotonin may be behind the increased sex drive reported by some migraineurs.

Migraines and Sexual Function

Tension headaches and migraines often lead to sexual dysfunction. Women may experience an inability to achieve orgasm, while men may be unable to have an erection. As with libido, sexual dysfunction generally occurs during painful attacks, and not between headache episodes.

Several of the medications used to prevent migraines may cause sexual dysfunction and decreased sex drive for both men and women, and these effects may occur during and in between migraine episodes. These medications include antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Migraine prevention medications do not produce sexual side effects for everyone. If you experience frequent or severe migraines, it is worth trying preventative medications if you and your partner are willing to wait and see whether you experience sexual side effects.

Sexual Activity May Relieve Some Migraines

Sexual activity can relieve the pain of a migraine or cluster headache, especially among males.

The reason for the relief of headache pain with sexual intercourse is not clear. Possible exaplanations include:

  • Some scientists have postulated that chemicals released during orgasm serve to diminish pain responses in the body, reduing the pain and discomfort of a migraine.
  • Stimulation of the vagina during sex might provide a pain-relieving effect, possibly due to activation of the same nervous system pathways involved in childbirth. Pain is relieved in response to stretching of the cervix and pelvic outlet during childbirth— similar stimulation of this pain-relief pathway may occur during intercourse.

Keep in mind that sex is not simply a physical function, and the emotional aspects of sex are likely involved in the relationship between migraines and pain. When one partner is reluctant or did not consent, then that partner will not experience any of the beneficial effects of sex.

A Word From Verywell

More research is needed to understand how headaches and sex are related. Keep in mind that sex drive and sexual satisfaction are impacted by many factors. Migraine and headache discomfort can have a major impact on sex drive and sexual function, and gaining an understanding of your own and your partner's feelings and medical condition is a key aspect of maintaining a consistently satisfying sexual relationship.

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